Getting Started in Kayak Tournament Fishing

You’ve got a kayak and your favorite fishing gear.  Part of the reason you chose to start kayak fishing is the simplicity and the ease of getting on the water and finding your favorite target species.  But sometimes you look for some competition (and camaraderie), a test of your skills versus other kayak anglers.  Maybe you’ve fished tournaments before from a motorized boat, but how does it work from a kayak?

Kayak tournaments use a different method for measuring than standard motorized boat bass tournaments. Rather than keep fish in a livewell for a live weigh-in, kayak tournaments utilize a system known as Catch-Photo-Release (CPR).  With this method, a photo is taken of the fish that displays the fish, a token for tournament day, and the measuring board that demonstrates the length of the fish.  The fish is immediately returned to the water and the photo is turned in to the tournament director for judging and scoring, where lengths are determined and recorded rather than weights.

In order to keep consistency in judging, most kayak tournaments (including all Indiana Kayak Anglers events) require the use of the measuring board known as the Hawg Trough.  Once you acquire your first Hawg Trough, it is necessary to mark the measurement ridges so that they’re easily visible in the photos you submit for scoring.  Using a wide-tipped Sharpie seems to be the best method for doing so.  Additionally, these boards do NOT float, so many people choose to add some sort of flotations to keep from losing them.  This can be done by applying foam strips or spray foam to the channels that run the length of the underside of the board.  I’ve also seen some people glue in wooden dowel rods to add both flotation and rigidity.  If you haven’t yet purchased one, you should consider buying from Fishing Online, who sells Hawg Troughs that are pre-marked and already have flotation added for a very reasonable price.

As you can guess, with CPR events you’re going to need some type of digital camera, whether it be a standalone digital camera or your smartphone.  Regardless of the solution you choose to use, it’s always a good idea to consider using some sort of waterproofing and flotation solution to avoid destroying your camera/phone or watching it sink into 30 foot of water.  I personally use my smartphone with a DiCaPac floating waterproof smartphone pack.  Photos can be taken while the phone is still in the pack without negatively affecting the quality of the photo.

An example of a valid CPR photo

Different events you fish will have different requirements for the photos you submit for scoring.  Make sure you’re aware of those requirements before you set out on the water.  Photos that don’t meet the requirements will not count towards your tournament total length.  In most events, you’ll have the fish facing to the left of the photo, belly towards you, dorsal fin away from you.  The mouth must be touching the bump part of the board and the fish laying flat.  Where rules will often differ amongst events is the state of the mouth and the lay of the tail.  Some events will require the mouth to be closed (like all Indiana Kayak Anglers events) while other events will not specify.  Some events will require the tail to be laying naturally on the board (like all Indiana Kayak Anglers events) while other will allow you to manipulate the tail for best results.  In the photo, the entire fish must be visible so that the judge can see the mouth to verify it’s touching the bump as well as the tail to determine length.  In addition, your tournament token must be visible to verify that the fish was caught during the event.  It’s also necessary to see your kayak in the photo.

I have a few recommendations for CPR.  One, practice practice practice.  It doesn’t seem difficult on the surface, but you’ll be surprised at how crazy it can be to go through all of the steps necessary to get a good photo of your fish.  Practicing this when a tournament is not on the line is your best bet to learn what works best for you.  Two, take multiple pictures of the fish.  I’ll take three to four photos of each fish in order to ensure that I have a photo worthy of turning in for judging.  Once those photos are taken, I’ll take a random shot of whatever is around me to indicate on my camera that the next fish picture is a different fish.  This helps me identify each of the fish I’ve caught throughout the day while I’m “culling” pictures to turn in.  Another tip is to find a way to attach your tournament token to either your Hawg Trough or yourself.  This will essentially allow you to eliminate the step of getting your token into the photo.  For Indiana Kayak Anglers events, we utilize bracelets to assist with this.  For events that use card-type token, I’ve attached a Gear Tie to my Hawg Trough, then fasten the other end to the token, which holds it above the fish for photos.

In addition to the items you’ll need for judging and scoring in a kayak fishing tournament, the majority of events (again including all Indiana Kayak Anglers events) will require a Personal Flotation Device to be worn at all times during the event, regardless of local laws and regulations.  This is to mitigate risk against injury and to promote safety on the water.

Finally, you’ll need to have all licenses and permits required by the state you’re fishing in and the body of water you’re on.  If you get a ticket for breaking the law, you’re likely going to be disqualified from the event you’re fishing.